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T. S. Church

Return to Canifis

PROLOGUE

“So we agree then? You will provide me with the horses and men?”

Sulla sat with his back to the ruined wall, the light from the fire reflected in his blind left eye, his face hideously scarred. Six months of flight and hiding had thinned his once muscular body. His clothes were torn rags, the soles of his boots flapped loose, his hair had grown down to his shoulders, and a wild beard covered his face, which irritated his scarred flesh in the hot weather.

If I only had hands to scratch the mites! But she has denied me even that.

“We will indeed,” the man replied. “Although I would feel better if you had a hand I could shake.” The bandit leader smiled to his men, fifteen in all, who laughed at the joke. Sulla said nothing-he had endured far worse than cheap japes, as the ragged cloths tied about each of his wrists testified.

“Don’t worry, my friend, you can trust me,” the man continued. “I may be an outlaw, but Leander the thief always keeps his word.” The bandit stroked his short moustache, his eyes greedy.

“Very well,” Sulla said. “At dawn I will lead you to the treasure that shall be your payment, but now I must sleep. I am not as strong as I used to be.” He stretched out on the ground as best he could-and winced at the pain it caused.

Sulla closed his eyes to rest, yet he only feigned sleep. Instead, he slowed his breathing, and after a long stretch of silence the bandits began to murmur to one another. As they did, he listened carefully.

He could pick out Leander and his lieutenant, Barbec, speaking in low voices. Leander said something which made Barbec gasp.

Have they realised who I am? he wondered.

Soon after, he heard the scrape of a knife being sharpened across a whetstone.

He had taken a tremendous risk in walking into Leander’s camp alone. Jerrod had advised him against it, and he knew the werewolf would not be far away. It amazed him how close the creature could get to his prey before being detected-close enough that it was always too late for his victims. He was probably less than a stone’s throw away, even now, watching Sulla’s back.

The knife finished scraping across the whetstone.

Perhaps he means to cut my throat with it? Sulla mused, yet still he didn’t move. Have they guessed who I am? No doubt the Kinshra have offered a reward for my capture, and a description to go with it, for I know them well. Didn’t I lead them once, against her?

Sulla gritted his teeth at the thought of Kara-Meir and their last confrontation, when she had fought him in single combat and had severed both his hands.

It would have been a hundred times kinder to kill me, and you knew it. You knew it!

Suddenly Sulla felt his right hand clench into a tight fist.

He forced himself to breathe calmly. It wasn’t the first time he had endured such ghostly feelings from hands that he no longer possessed. For the last six months every day had been a trial for him. Without hands it was impossible to eat or ride or fight. He had become entirely dependant on his werewolf friend, Jerrod.

It made him… uncomfortable.

Together they had fled and then hidden, until, with agonizing slowness, Sulla grew strong enough to walk again. Eventually, they ventured out to the north, into The Wilderness, hoping to hide themselves in that lawless realm while they planned how best to revenge themselves upon those who had defeated them.

Nevertheless, they had done well together. Jerrod still had those who aided him on his journey, yet Sulla could tell that the werewolf feared his master, who twice had appeared to him, offering him council in The Wilderness-although Sulla had seen and heard nothing when it had occurred. Each time the information he had given them had saved them from certain death, so Sulla had asked no questions.

And that is how I know you are coming after me, Kara-Meir. You, Gar’rth, and that barbarian priestess. You are so near. Soon, we shall start our journey south, to Varrock, to complete this plan of Jerrod’s undead master. And I will be there to see it.

He dreamt, as he had on a thousand other occasions, of what he would do to Kara-Meir and her friends if ever they came under his power again.

I will be there to see it!

Leander the thief watched as his men sweated from the work, but made no move to assist them.

The ground was hard from the dry summer. They had travelled east all morning to reach their destination-a parched plain where only sickly-coloured vegetation grew. Farther south, the land undulated in a series of long wide barrows until their view was finally barred by a small range of hills. Beyond that, Sulla knew, was Varrock.

“Can’t they dig any faster?” he demanded. The thief just stared.

“I would ask you to help,” he said, “only I don’t think your handiwork would be of any use.” He smiled at his taunt.

Suddenly a cry from one of the bandits silenced them. The man drove his spade into the ground, where it struck a metallic surface with a loud clang. All attention turned to where he stood.

“Dig it out!” Leander commanded. The men dug furiously before dragging a box from the earth. Leander knelt by the lock, examining it intently.

“You’ll need the key,” Sulla advised.

Leander smiled and pulled an object from his pouch.

“Be patient my mysterious friend, and see how a genuine thief deals with such a simple barrier.” Deftly, he inserted his pick and listened, carefully teasing the teeth of the lock.

Seconds later, it gave a satisfying click and fell open. As Leander’s men cheered, Barbec moved to Sulla’s side, and the fallen warlord noted how the man’s hand gripped his sword.

As I anticipated…

Leander lifted the lid of the box, his eyes widening as he perceived the thick wad of paper inside. He turned his head and opened his mouth to speak, when suddenly he gave a cry and jerked his hand away from the lock, his face grimacing in pain.

“It’s a poisoned needle,” Sulla explained calmly. “Its effects are immediate, and the pain will drive you mad within hours.”

“Kill him!” Leander screamed, leaping to his feet and furiously massaging his arm.

Barbec drew his blade and held it to Sulla’s throat.

Sulla didn’t move as he stared at him with quiet malice. Barbec hesitated.

No sign of weakness. If you are weak, you die. When he spoke, his voice was calm, his words measured.

“If you spare me I can make you all rich, for only I know the true value of what is contained in those parchments,” he said. “Kill me, and you shall have nothing.”

Barbec looked back to Leander. The thief had collapsed onto his knees and was writhing in agony. While the men stared at their leader, a figure emerged from the shadows and stood silently behind them.

Perfect timing.

“Need I add that I will spare your lives?” Sulla asked as a low growl emerged from the newcomer. The bandits spun, and several cried out in fear as the hirsute figure neared.

“A w-w-werewolf!” one of them stammered.

Several of his fellows drew their blades and held them out. But none dared advance on the creature.

“Do nothing, for he is my associate,” Sulla said. “From Morytania. His name is Jerrod. Put away your rusted weapons-none of them can harm him. They will only serve to make him angry, and if that happens, you will not live

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